Fossey death suspect to face war crimes trial

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A Rwandan accused of genocide during his country's mass killings in 1994, and linked to the murder of the US gorilla expert Dian Fossey, will face a UN war crimes trial after a Belgian court yesterday approved his arrest warrant.

Protais Zigiranyirazo will be transferred to the UN tribunal for Rwanda in Arusha, Tanzania, after a judgment yesterday by Judge Damien Vandermeersch which gives prosecutors 90 days to provide the necessary paperwork.

Mr Zigiranyirazo, who is the 63-year-old brother-in-law of former Rwandan president Juvenal Habyarimana, was arrested on 26 July at a refugee detention centre after trying to claim asylum in Belgium.

Once his identity was discovered he was taken into custody on a warrant issued by Carla del Ponte, chief prosecutor of the UN war crimes tribunal. Yesterday's appearance at a closed hearing was largely a technicality during which the arrest warrant was judged to be in order.

The Africa Rights pressure group claims Mr Zigiranyirazo was associated with a group called Network Zero which organised and protected death squads operating in Rwanda in 1992. As prefect of Ruhengeri he is also believed responsible for widespread killings.

But he may also be interviewed by the US Federal Bureau of Investigations over the murder of Ms Fossey in her mountain hut on Rwanda's border with Uganda and Congo in 1985. Ms Fossey, a US national played by Sigourney Weaver in the 1988 film Gorillas in the Mist, had been working to save rare mountain gorillas from poachers. A book published in 1993 by Nicholas Gordon claimed that Mr Zigiranyirazo was involved in illegal trading in endangered species and Ms Fossey was about to expose him.

Although the American law enforcement agencies have been looking for her killer there has been no confirmation in Belgium that the FBI wants to question Mr Zigiranyirazo.

The defendant's lawyer, Sandrine Ghilain, said her client would fight the transfer for "technical reasons". She said Mr Zigiranyirazo had "nothing to do with" Ms Fossey's killing and he has not been contacted by the FBI.